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Moving Day

Today is a right of passage, as much for the parents as the child.

Beth is moving out today. I drove down from Gainesville last night and we’re moving Beth’s stuff out of the home we made at Christy and Mike’s big house in Orlando (my sister and brother-in-law), across town to her dorm on campus at UCF.

Jesus, is it THAT day already?

I have a number of colorful metaphors swirling around in my head, but this is a family web site so I’ll spare you. A number of cliches, tropes, and banal phrases accompany these metaphors, but they seem WAY more profound than they did even a day ago. I might have explored some of these feelings in this post, but I’m suddenly pressed for time. As Beth might say, “I’m, like, LITERALLY minutes away from needing to get ready to go.”

Alright, maybe just a couple, to sate appetite for schmaltz. My oldest child… for many years my only child… is striking out on her own today. She’s leaving the nest. The daily interactions with my child we can easily take for granted – morning and evening routines, etc – are at an end (for the foreseeable future). I will still have some impact/influence on her life, but in some ways my job is done. No, it will never be done. I’m not that naive. But it suddenly seems overwhelming – it seems there are so many ways in which we either did our jobs as parents or didn’t, and this is the beginning of our Final Exam. Will she be prepared or won’t she? Dear Lord, I hope we did enough.

I hope she’s ready.

I hope she’ll be happy.

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The Call

The Call has many forms. There may be as many versions as there are people, but I suspect there are a lot of similarities.

Look at your life. Pick a spot where you are vulnerable, where life has you by the fucking balls. Pardon the colorful metaphor. Now imagine a phone ringing. That’s The Call – in your life. It’s a wily bastard. It changes as your life does, adapting to your weaknesses. For me it changed (again) when my daughter got her driver’s license. When I imagine it, it’s better when it starts with her voice, but my imagination can be a bastard too – so it’s not always much better.

I got The Call Thursday morning at work.

  • “Dad?“ she said with tears in her voice, ”I’VEBEENINANACCIDENTANDIDONTKNOWWHAT….”

  • Beth, stop. Take a breath and start over, but slower this time.

  • “I’ve been in accident and it was my fault and it was so bad and the car spun around and I thought there was enough room but there wasn’t and I’m so scared and it was so bad…”

You’re on dad.

Where to start? It’s easy and freaky hard at the same time, or it is for me. I wanted to know that she was o.k., but in situations like this time slows down. I’m listening to what she’s saying, processing how she’s saying it, and considering not only what I’m going to ask but how I should ask it. I want – NO – I NEED to know if she’s hurt. But at the same time I know she desperately needs something from me too. What I say and how I say it will be parsed in a similar way, though probably not as efficiently given her state of mind. Even a simple question will communicate how I feel. Am I concerned? Mad? Am I panicked, and if so does that mean she should be more worried than she already is? All of this is going through my mind in the span of her single, run-on sentence.

My heart is pounding but concern carves it’s way through my own panic, forcing a slow, measured tone: my loving, calm but concerned, father voice.

  • Beth. Beth. Elizabeth.
  • “Um, yeah?”

  • I just want to know if you’re o.k. Are you hurt?

  • “I think I’m o.k. but I’m scared because I’ve neverbeeninanaccidentbeforeandhaveyoubeenin….”

  • Beth. Beth. Has anyone called for help?

  • “Yes there’s a man here who saw it and he said he was calling and….”

  • Beth. Where are you? Can you tell me where you are?

  • “I was just trying to pull out from our street and I thought I had time but the cars were coming faster than I thought and I tried to stop and….”

  • O.K. Beth. You’re near the house?

  • “Yes. I was just trying to pull out….”

  • Listen to me Beth. I’m coming right now, o.k.? I’m going to be there soon. You know my office is pretty close right? I’m going to be there really soon. You’re not alone.

Fuck that calm crap. Fuck the bad neck. Fuck what anyone else thinks. I ran down the stairs, across the elevated walkway connecting my building to the parking garage, juked a few late arrivals walking the other way, jumped in my car, then took a quick moment to gather myself. I needed to drive there safely. I needed to actually get there.

When I did my eyes ignored everything about the scene, save one thing: my firstborn child, my only daughter, standing on the sidewalk. Looking at me. Crying. But most importantly: standing.

  • Are you o.k. Beth? Does anything hurt?
  • “Nothing hurts but I’m really scared dad.”

We hugged and I looked around, relieved. Her car was pointed in the wrong direction, 180 degrees from the right direction. The SUV that hit her was driving away, driven by the other driver’s spouse. The other driver, an adult, had a small entourage gathered around, twenty yards up the street. The officer on the scene seemed to be camped out with the other adults. Beth, a 17 year old kid, shoulders slumped with shame and shock, had stood alone on the sidewalk on this rainy, overcast morning. Waiting for someone, anyone, to stand with her. For her. Waiting for anything in the world to tilt her way, though fearing she didn’t deserve it, knowing the accident was ultimately her fault, and feeling overrun with guilt.

I knew it could have been much worse. No one seemed to be hurt. The other car was being driven away. But seeing my daughter there, alone, so vulnerable, the weight of the world on her shoulders and feeling as if it was leaning against her – it broke my heart.

I gently took her head in my hands.

  • Beth. Close your eyes and listen to me. Just listen to my voice. Only hear my voice. You are the only thing that matters to me. You didn’t hurt anyone. It was an accident. They happen all of the time. You made a mistake and I can tell you learned something from it. Everyone has accidents. You got to learn from one where no one was hurt.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • You’re just as special to me as you were two hours ago.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • I love you.
  • This changes nothing that’s important to me.
  • I’m here with you.
  • I love you.

I want to protect my kids but I know I can’t protect them from everything. I know they shouldn’t always be protected from everything. Childhood is the opportunity to make mistakes in life when the stakes often aren’t so high, to learn by trial and error in a (somewhat) controlled environment.

But of course, we gradually and steadily lose that control as the years pass, until suddenly we realize we’ve lost it altogether – or perhaps was an allusion all along. It’s another one of those things I alluded to in my last post. You can read about it and think you understand. “Yeah, yeah. I get it.”

Then your hysterical child calls you in the morning, when you thought she was safely at school. In a single moment of carelessness, your gifted child pulled out into heavy morning traffic at the wrong moment, the collision spinning her car like a toy. You see the point of impact, the bent axel of the driver’s side front wheel forced back into the ruined transmission. You see the untouched, driver’s side door and you know: a couple of feet was the difference between her standing on the sidewalk crying… and not standing.

There’s nothing like standing there and realizing you didn’t get it at all, but you sure as fuck do now.

**Note: this post was approved for posting by Beth.

Beth Grows Up

The site lost something when the kids got older. When kids get into trouble as an infant, it’s much more amusing than when they’re a teen. Plus, somewhere in between they learn how to read, become aware of the world around them, and don’t find it amusing when they lose control of their own narrative.

I’m making an exception with this post because it’s really about me – and that’s not my ego talking. I’ve been ego impaired since a tragic incident early in my childhood.

Something hit me the other day.

F—! It hit me again! Agh! Damn it! Stop that!

Beth is graduating from High School this year.

I’ve know this for a long time… like some people know they’ll have kids one day. After your first is born (and sometime between the grand entrance and your first all-nighter on the first night home) it hits you. Your life is never going to be the same.

I can’t help but wonder if the same is true when they leave home (the first time). They’re born and BANG – you have a child. Twenty odd years of experience and conditioning, of taking care of yourself and worrying over your own life, (milage will vary) all of it is thrown out the window. Then they leave and BANG – you have a child out in the world. Eighteen years of experience and conditioning, of being responsible for the care and safety of a person in progress, much of it becomes obsolete. I wonder if you can really prepare for either one, or if they both sneak up and shatter your worldview in an instant.

It didn’t hit me when Beth started her senior year, took her SATs, or even when she got her first college acceptance letter. I knew there was no way in this lifetime any of us could pay for it – that or I was in some serious denial. It hit me when she got her second. It hit me again when she scheduled a tour of the campus, and once more when she left for it this morning with Cheryl.

Holy shit. She really is going to go.

Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna be fine. I’m the one you should worry about. One day soon she’s going to leave for college.

For better or worse, I’ll finally know what it’s like to have a child out in the world.

My loss will be your gain.

You’re welcome.


What’s so special about today?

Today is Monday, July 15th, 2013.

Our first born child, a little girl we named Elizabeth Ann, was born on Tuesday, July 15th, 1997.

Maybe you’re not a math person… and that’s ok. Not everyone is, so I’ll do it for you (eventually).

Caveat: my knowing has nothing to do with math and everything to do with said little girl (who’s not so little anymore) asking the following question every 1.25 hours for the last 6.5 months: “Can you believe I’m going to be sixteen years old this year?!?”

Not that I’ve been counting.

You may recall my tale of the head of child psychiatrics at the local children’s hospital diagnosing Beth with Aspergers (or high functioning autism), after a somewhat difficult childhood. You may recall the years of various diagnoses and treatments leading up to it. You may recall the birth defect which led to surgery to remove it and a damaged kidney that it caused.

This is not to say Beth’s childhood was worse than many others’. But it’s hard to consider yourself lucky when your child is suffering.

I’m happy to say Beth is a smart, confident, and independent thinking sixteen year old young adult today.

She may never know the depth of my pride, though not for a lack of trying. Some things are hard to express. Some things are hard to understand until you’ve stood in their shoes.

Happy Birthday kid!


When questions get harder

Beth wanted advice on a homework assignment for a writing class she’s taking at college this semester. Her professor wants the class to come up with two topics for a possible upcoming assignment: write a persuasive essay taking a side of an issue relevant today.

I thought to myself, “yeah sure, possible. Like it’s possible I might take another breath before the end of the semester.”

So far, so good?

Here’s where the fun began. He gave a couple examples, one of which was: “climate change is a liberal myth perpetuated by a liberal media.” Beth explained she wanted to turn her professor’s example around and argue the opposite for one of her topics.

Ho-boy! Where do I begin?

First of all, I tried to stay calm – a feat made easier by a muscle relaxer taken an hour earlier to calm down some neck pain. I didn’t want to say something like, “Man, it sounds like your professor is a f…ing idiot.” She’s smart enough to come to this conclusion herself. Plus, I didn’t want to encourage an adversarial relationship with someone responsible for giving her a grade. I went that route my freshman year at UF and it didn’t turn out well.

I’m trying to cut down on my swearing. So lets just say, I had English teacher whose head was stuck pretty far up someplace that’s usually inaccessible to one’s own head.

It was one of the few times I got less than an A in a class at UF, and I started the semester a seventeen year old, know-it-all teenager. She’s a fifteen year old, know-it-all teenager, who hasn’t graduated from high school yet, and an average of four years younger than the rest of the class. I feared she might not fare as well.

My next thought was, should I give the guy some slack? Maybe he was playing the role of provocateur to get some neurons firing, rather than being an ideologue trying to push an ill-informed worldview ON MY DAUGHTER!

Finally, I tried to find a middle path. She knows how I feel on the subject, as we’ve discussed it many times. I told her I was proud of her desire to take up the cause, but this wasn’t the right place. Plus, I didn’t think it served a possible purpose of the exercise: to write a reasoned essay defending a position on an issue that might not be familiar (now), or one she might not even hold. Giving the guy the benefit of doubt, I thought it could turn out to be a good exercise in critical thought.

Plus, I thought merely taking his example and turning it around lacked creativity. There are LOTS of problems in the world worthy of a little persuasion.

I’ll tell you one thing. It makes me yearn for her early years when the questions were easy, like explaining redshift.

The astronomical phenomenon, in case you were wondering.

The stone! Give me the stone!

The set-up:
My boy Adam and I were driving home after a haircut this weekend. We were listening to the radio but only one of us was paying close attention.

The conversation:
“I wish I had my notepad.”

Why do you say that Adam?

“Because I want to write something down.”

That’s my boy!


Nothing. What do you want to write down?

“That commercial that was just on…”


“Yeah. Something Stone.. learning languages?”

Rosetta Stone?

“That’s it. Rosetta Stone.”

Why do you want Rosetta Stone?

As my mind turns:
He’s been taking Spanish in school, so I was impressed he was interested enough to learn it on his own time. **I think it’s great he wants to learn other languages, and I’d like to encourage him somehow. However, we’re not in a position to trade a few months of the family’s room and board for The Rosetta Stone Experience.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:
“I’ve been having trouble learning French.”

A popular caffeinated beverage burns through my sinuses…

“Yeah, why?”

I don’t know… how long have you been learning French?

He pauses for about fifteen seconds – ’twas very dramatic…
“I guess since Kindergarten.”

He hasn’t really, but he has been exposed to it by his grandparents.

Later that same day I got a call from my sister (who had been looking at lists and was out Christmas shopping), asking if Beth still wanted to learn Italian.

Italian? I’ll say this: whatever Rosetta Stone is spending on marketing , I’ll bet it’s worth it.

**Please note: I’m not really complaining. To borrow some humor from a GEICO commercial… my kids’ interest in learning and languages in particular makes me happier than a slinky on an escalator. The mock outrage here is simply an attempt at humor when I’m feeling humorless. I’m trying to kickstart a good mood.

When in life

I was really excited this morning. I surfed the web for images and maps of campus. I gave Beth ten answers for every question she asked. Maybe one in ten were pertinent to the question. I found a picture of a room from the dorm she’ll be staying in at UF. Countless pictures of my dorm came to mind. There was so much excitement and nostalgia floating around it’s hard to imagine a better high.

Some may think I’m an unhappy person but I hope Beth has even a fraction of my good fortune.

Cheryl and Beth backed out the driveway and quickly disappeared. Cheryl will be back tomorrow, Beth next week. But it’s not hard to imagine this morning was a glimpse of the future… a future that’s sprinting to the present, where weeks become semesters and semesters become a new life.

I hope we’ll be ready.

Beth left with a grin, maybe even as excited as me. I hope she returns with a bigger one, with memories of her own and an itch to create a lot more.

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No complaints

Woo hoo! That’s a good one! Just because I’m not going to use this post to whine doesn’t mean I’ve got no complaints.

I promise you though – I won’t go there today. Today I want to cheer myself up as much as anything.

I do this with full knowledge of the consequences: this will be a boring post. Ask the news director at your local television station. Misery, desperation and destruction sells! You show me a local news program that leads with a story about a local kid’s puppy finding his way home to Kansas, after being dog-napped in Kalamazoo, and I’ll show you a local news director who doesn’t care about being employed.

I won’t be discussing puppies or their heroism, but I will be discussing kids – mine in fact. Both seem to be blossoming this year in school, and not just academically.

Beth took a test last spring to determine which materials the school would order for her this year. She’s in ninth grade, for those of you keeping score. It’s traditionally known as the first year of high school ’round these parts. It’s the freshman year, or the year of feeling REALLY young. You may recall she attends a small private school due the social problems she had in public school, attributed to high functioning Autism (or Aspergers). The classes are small, have mixed grades, and are self paced – thus the need for personalized materials. We learned how she did on the test in August.

Beth essentially tested out of high school before she started. As a result (in part), she got involved in some extra curricular activities to keep school interesting this year. She decided she’d like to work on the yearbook. The teacher who oversees the group said she’d be assigned tasks according to her strengths. If you know Beth you know she wasn’t satisfied with such an open ended statement. So she pressed. “Oh, we’ll probably have you doing a bit of everything.” She was recently asked to attend a sports event to take photographs. She thought it was the coolest thing since the penguin experience at Sea World.

She’s been volunteering at the YMCA one day a week and attending drama club another. (Like we need more drama in our lives.) This spring she’ll be taking the entrance exams necessary to take dual enrollment courses at a local college starting next year.

Discussions at home have been filled with university degree programs and the prerequisites she’ll start taking next year. It seems like just last year she was in middle school and now we’re talking about her starting college.

They grow up fast!

Meanwhile Adam’s been coming home with tests for me to sign, and I can’t recall the last one I saw with a wrong answer. He’s been an information sponge that never seems to fully saturate.

He joined Cub Scouts this year – something I’m not completely happy about. He desperately wanted to join and I wasn’t sure how to explain discrimination based on sexual preference to my precious, sweet little boy. I know it can’t last forever, but the loss of childhood innocence is a door you can’t close – and I don’t want to open it yet – not if I can help it. He’s smart enough to know not everyone is perfect, and the world as a whole is similarly flawed. But living out in it gives us a deeper knowledge I can’t bring myself to share. However, the emphasis on community service complements his kind soul, and he’s having a great time.

Maybe the best thing is they both still want to spend time with their dad. Adam still pines for “a catch,” the American ritual of father and son throwing a baseball across the back yard. When I think about it (and sometimes I think about things far too much), I’m awestruck that such a simple thing as a baseball passed back and forth can seem so important. It’s almost as if it’s a bonding ritual written into our DNA, designed to be hard wired into the areas of the brain where love, nurturing, and long term memories reside.

I remember dismissing such things as a parent in waiting.

Were we all such fools when we were young?

Beth still seeks my opinion on a wide range of issues and accomplishments. Apparently she still thinks I know things. Were we all such fools when we were young ;-) She is a teenager, isn’t she? Doesn’t she know parents stop knowing things when their kids reach thirteen?

If Cheryl didn’t intervene with trivial matters like, “Beth, you need to get some sleep tonight,” or “Beth, the house is on fire, you really should get out,” we’d talk for hours. The only thing larger than my self-doubt is her curiosity and confidence in my words. Recently she wanted to know if she should be afraid about overpopulation and diminishing world resources. That was an especially long conversation, meandering between light topics like the environment, climate change, and population dynamics across the social-economic spectrum.

Long story short: I’m happy to report the kids are more than fine. They’re pretty great.

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A warming world

We were leaving the YMCA last night and I asked Beth how her first day of volunteering went.

“Great!” she said.

“Why did you decide to volunteer here?” I asked, thinking of yesterday’s post.

“I wanted to give something back to the community and this was the first place I thought of since we come all the time.”

My heart swelled.

Later, she asked me an interesting question. “Why is it significant the Earth doesn’t cool very much at night?”

“Well, think about it,” I said. “Why do they call CO2 a greenhouse gas?”

“I get it. The Earth has energy in the form of heat all day, not just when the sun is up. It can’t cool after the sun goes down because the heat absorbed during the day can’t escape back into space at night either.”

Although the subject of the last conversation continues to depress me, overall, it was a good day to be a parent. I’ve been a good influence after all.

Now, if there was just some way we could get adults to catch up to the accumulated wisdom of a fourteen year old.


Today is the first day of school. Adam and Beth got out the uniforms this morning for the first time in almost three months, and started a new chapter in their lives.

For Adam, it’s first grade. These days the jump from kindergarten to first grade isn’t much different from first to second. The era of standardized testing and school “accountability” has leached most of the fun from learning, as schools standardize curriculums, and reduce every moment between bells to drill English and math into childrens’ heads with the subtlety of a jack-hammer.

It’s why Adam is in private school, although his school isn’t immune to the pressure to kickstart the academics early. Private schools aren’t “accountable” the way public schools are. Florida’s ultra-conservative state government says it’s because private schools are held to an even higher standard: “the free market.” Oh the irony! Private schools lack the woeful standards of “accountability” of public schools, allowing them to devote more time to a rounded education. They can dabble in frivolous things like music, art, and the study of foreign languages and cultures – all the things I got from my public education in Florida before the “accountability movement” started.

Heaven fucking forbid.

Beth starts high school today, though she too will remain at the same, private school she attended last year. As you may recall, our hand was forced when it became clear “accountability” didn’t apply to kids with Aspergers.

I didn’t mean to begin this post with a rant about the school system. It just kind of happened. I guess I still have unresolved issues.

What I really wanted to say is I’m really proud of my kids.

Beth has her first interview today. She’s starting ninth grade, so we were a little leery of her working in her spare time. However, it’s not about money. Beth wants to volunteer at the YMCA, watching the little kids after school and working the front desk.

How could I say no to that? I’m a little worried. Social skills are not her strong point, but if this works out it could be a great experience for her.

Here’s what warmed my heart: she came up with this on her own. While we were there working out one day, she sought out the director, spoke to him, and came home with an application – without any prompting from us. Hell, we didn’t even know she could volunteer at her age.

Lots of kids have good hearts and take initiative to do good things. What surprises me is I’ve brought up one of those kids.

No, she isn’t working to solve the problem of world hunger, but she is willingly giving her time to do something she enjoys – helping other people.

Proud doesn’t begin to explain how I feel. Pretty damn lucky comes close.